Wayne McGregor leans his gangly body against the mirrors in the airy Jerwood Space studios and observes as his dancers perform a complex sequence of movements. First their heads bob down like so many birds, then their arms shoot rapidly up and down, measuring out the space between collarbone and shoulder, elbow and wrist. Their backs arch and flex and their shoulders shudder. It is like watching a beautifully synchronised set of malfunctioning robots.
The group moves briskly through sequence after sequence. As McGregor calls out numbers, the dancers launch into long set pieces, jagged solos and smooth, sliding duets. McGregor contributes the odd instruction: "This needs to be like underwater dancing", "Make it fatter!" and, once, "Imagine you are a boa constrictor that has just eaten something." The subsequent change is almost imperceptible, but somehow that boa constrictor has made it into the movement.
To someone like me, whose co-ordination hit a ceiling in level one aerobics, the dancers' physical memory and ability to respond to instruction with pinpoint accuracy seem incredible. "They are like computers," says McGregor afterwards. "We work on a set of sequences together. Weeks later, we'll go back over them and they'll still be there in the hard drive." It is a characteristic McGregor analogy: throughout his career he has been …